A large crowd gathered in Tacoma on Sunday evening to protest against the Police Department, in response to an incident the night before in which a police officer drove through a crowd that had gathered for street racing, hitting people and injuring at least two.
Footage of the incident was widely shared on social media and showed the police officer knocking several people to the ground in his SUV and running over at least one person as onlookers scream. The injuries of the two people who were hospitalized were not expected to be life threatening, and one person had been released from the hospital as of Sunday morning.
As the group of at least 200 people marched through downtown Sunday night, some in the protest crowd broke windows at buildings including a bail bonds office and the County-City Building.
Protesters gathered starting at 7 p.m. at Frost Park, near the spot where the officer had hit the people. Loosely gathered on the park’s small patch of grass and stairs in Tacoma’s historic downtown, demonstrators held signs that said “Defund TPD” and “Justice for Manuel Ellis.” Ellis died in police custody in Tacoma last year, spurring protests and outrage.
A protester support minivan was stationed at a nearby intersection with H2O painted on its window, its back stacked with water bottles.
“We want to see the officer actually fired and charged,” said Jacob, a lifelong Tacoma resident who declined to give his last name. He held a Defund TPD sign. “Paid vacation isn’t a punishment.”
Soon, some maskless men approached him, saying that the street racers were also in the wrong. One said that the night’s protest was a “recipe for disaster,” warning him police were likely to come break it up.
Later, as the crowd grew and chanted “Whose Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter,” demonstrators barricaded streets to keep cars out and someone set a trash can on fire. One person in the group could be seen carrying a rifle. By about 8:15 p.m., they were marching through downtown, and some in the crowd were breaking windows and spray-painting graffiti on the sides of buildings.
Protesters also gathered outside the Pierce County Jail, banging on the surrounding fence and shouting to the people inside. Though at one point police on bicycles formed a line blocking protesters, law enforcement largely had not interacted with the protest as of about 9:30 p.m.
Earlier Sunday, Mayor Victoria Woodards issued a statement saying that Saturday night’s incident “is being taken very seriously” and that she’s called on the city manager and police chief “to ensure that everyone involved is held accountable.”
“For those who woke up this morning feeling outrage, frustration, grief, heartbreak, or confusion, I understand and honor your feelings,” she said. “I, too, am deeply saddened by what we saw last night.”
“I know our community’s resiliency continues to be tested,” Woodards’ statement continued.
The Pierce County Force Investigation Team, which investigates cases of deadly force by police agencies in the county, is conducting an independent investigation. The team is made up of law enforcement officials from different agencies around the county, and also has non-law-enforcement community representatives.
The incident began Sunday night a little after 6 p.m., when police responded to South Ninth and Pacific Avenue in Tacoma and found vehicles and about 100 people blocking the intersection, the department said. The people had gathered for a street race, The (Tacoma) News Tribune reported.
In a statement released Saturday night, Tacoma police said that officers were trying to clear the intersection when one vehicle was surrounded by a crowd.
“People hit the body of the police vehicle and its windows as the officer was stopped in the street,” the department said. The officer, fearing for his safety, “drove forward striking one individual and may have impacted others.”
The officer “stopped at a point of safety and called for medical aid,” according to the department, which did not name the officer. The officer, a 58-year-old who has been with the department for 29 1/2 years, has been placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard under department policy.
The city’s Community Police Advisory Board has scheduled a public online meeting for 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the incident.
Seattle Times reporter Daniel Gilbert contributed to this report.